Under normal circumstances, the decision of the ECB to raise interest rates by 0.25 per cent at a time when the European economy is slowing, and inflation seems to be peaking, would have been a very big deal. However, with the peripheral debt crisis still deteriorating, the rate increase has not really been the centrepiece of market attention today.
Instead, the main focus is on the composition of the ECB’s balance sheet, where a much larger, if slower moving, story is unfolding. The ECB is gradually being drawn into the “socialisation” of peripheral country debt, in ways which are completely outside the control of the central bank, and which could yet end in crisis.
Today, the ECB decided to continue accepting Portuguese debt as collateral for repo operations, even though Portugal has been downgraded by Moody’s this week. The ECB is increasingly taking actions which they would have deemed unthinkable two years ago. But they are trapped, and will remain trapped until there is a more comprehensive solution to the peripheral debt crisis.